“. . . the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” – Leviticus 25:23
When asked what he thinks about before he plays, the late jazz trumpeter Miles Davis would simply reply, “what to leave out.” Jazz, you see, is a unique form of music in that very little of it is read from a score. Instead it is mostly created through improvisation, at which Miles Davis whose head was filled with infinite creative possibilities was an absolute master. His greatest genius, however, was not in the accumulation of music that filled his head; rather it was in his ability to deliver the best authentic musical expression to his audience, and to do that required that he should leave some things out rather than overwhelming his listeners.
For years I would hear older (and wiser!) folks bemoan the fact that they had spent their entire lives accumulating stuff only to realize one day that it all had become a great burden. It is one of the great myths of our affluent western culture, the belief that accumulation defines success and fulfillment. I should know, for we too fell into the same trap – until one day it occurred to us what a burden it had become to keep up with it all. So, like Miles Davis we realized that in order to perform at our best in life, we needed to leave some things out. At first it was a difficult and sometimes painful exercise to purge, consolidate, sell, or give away our precious stuff, until we discovered it to be a great relief. Not only have we never missed any of the possessions we let go of, but it has freed us up to live more productive and fulfilling lives.
“De-accumulate!” Richard Foster urges in a chapter titled “Simplicity” from his book Celebration of Discipline. “Masses of things that are not needed complicate life,” he explains. “They must be sorted and stored and dusted and re-sorted ad nauseam. Most of us could get rid of half of our possessions without serious sacrifice.” That describes what we experienced when we began to de-accumulate, and we still need to do more.
The greatest jazz music happens when the musician knows “what to leave out” – and so it is for living the most productive and fulfilling life. None of it is ours anyway; for as scripture reminds us “. . . the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.”